Linda Söffker was born in Eberswalde (Brandenburg) in 1969 and studied Cultural and Theatre Studies in Berlin. As a student she worked in the Zeughauskino in the German Historical Museum where, after graduating, she was hired as a curator and program coordinator. There she was occupied with film series and publications “Myths of Nations. Peoples in film” and “50 Years Federal Republic” under Dr. Rainer Rother (the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek since 2006). In 1999, Linda Söffker moved to the programming office of the Berlinale and three years later to the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section headed by Alfred Holighaus. There she worked first as an assistant, then as a curator and program manager, before she assumed the role of section head in 2010.
Since 1998, Linda Söffker has been engaged in the field of Cinema through various projects, such as conception and realization of “Kino am Pool” a summer event in the Freibad Wilmersdorf, curating film series for the Zeughauskino, press work for the First Steps Award, co-curating the “Newcomer” film series in the Kino Karli, and production management and curatorial work at DOKU.ARTS, international festival for films on art in the Academy of Arts.
For several years, Linda Söffker has been active as a member of various film and funding juries (e.g. in the BKM production and script funding commission and in the feature film jury of the Austrian Film Award 2007). She writes for various publications, including cinema program booklets for the Filmarchiv Austria and the Zeughauskino as well as for the film magazines RFF and Kolik.film. In 2006 she co-published the monograph Aki Kaurismäki with Ralph Eue and has written the program booklet of the German Film Award in cooperation with Alfred Holighaus since 2008.
Tara Karajica has caught up with her right in time for this year’s Berlinale to talk about the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section of the festival, its 2019 selection and women in film.
How has Perspektive Deutsches Kino evolved over time?
Linda Söffker: This year, we celebrate the 18th edition of Perspektive Deutsches Kino. In general, there has not been much change when it comes to the structural terms of the section; ever since its foundation, the section has presented documentary and feature films. Screening films at least twenty minutes in length, we also provide a platform for film school projects which is not a matter of course in the field of A-list festivals. The amount of applications increases every year, indeed. But, the selection did not increase throughout time. Sometimes, we would add a late-night screening program within the festival for genre variations (like for instance films such as The Bunker by Nikias Chryssos in our “Midnight Movies” screenings). However, we intensified the section’s program in regards to our cooperation within the cluster of the Berlinale, as well as with the German Films Service + Marketing GmbH and other industry partners. This has a positive effect on our network with global festival programmers.
What are, according to you, the filmmakers that have marked the section’s history? And, vice-versa – how has being selected in Perspektive Deutsches Kino contributed to their careers?
L.S.: I believe the one always accompanies the other. There have been multiple examples of how milestones of the section’s program have equally been supported due to our selection: first features by Dietrich Brüggemann, Sonja Heiss, Julia von Heinz, Thomas Stuber…
As an example I would like to mention director Anne Zohra Berrached whose first feature Two Mothers premiered in Perspektive Deutsches Kino in 2013. Only three years later, she was invited to the Official Competition of the Berlinale with her film 24 Weeks. She remained true to the festival, and mostly the “Perspektive”, by having a comeback as the main protagonist in Jana Bürgelin’s feature film Millennials in 2017. By now, she has even conquered the male domain of the cult television crime series Tatort – very famous amongst Germans.
Jules Herrmann also started her career in our section with the short film Time Out in 2006. Her full-length debut LIEBMANN was part of our selection two years ago and was nominated for the European Film Awards (European Discovery). She emerged as a real “Berlinale-child”, and came back last year as part of our jury for the Compass-Perspektive-Award. I’m very pleased to notice that the selection of Perspektive Deutsches Kino has turned out to be a seal of quality in the festival landscape.
What are, in your opinion, the most significant trends that you have seen in the section and subsequently, your selection?
L.S.: Feature films are mostly a male-directed domain. Still, I witness that more and more female directors conquer this field. If you look at this year’s selection, we invited three feature films that were directed by women: : Dust (Udita Bargava), Thirty (OT: Dreissig, Simona Kostova) and The Components of Love (OT: Die Einzelteile der Liebe). This is a trend that, I hope, will last. Unfortunately, television broadcasts tend to withdraw from funding projects of young filmmakers. By now, young directors and producers are used to going on “kamikaze” missions and funding their projects on their own, perhaps only supported by grandmothers or friends (e.g. Philipp Eichholtz for Away you go (OT: Rückenwind von vorn)). Very significant for the past years and still expanding: the diversity in languages (hence subtitles) – our young film makers are home in Europe. They see European, they think European, they direct European. Young German Cinema is not per se visibly German. Perspektive Deutsches Kino definitely contains a European perspective for our up-and-coming filmmakers.
The press release about this year’s selection of Perspektive Deutsches Kino starts with the following quote: “As with all beginnings, debut films have something magical about them that we try to let shine. For many filmmakers, the hopeful journey into the future of cinema begins with us here,” Can you elaborate on that?
L.S.: There is a special charm in the things you do for the very first time. The same applies to the films in our program: you can literally feel their impartiality and recklessness, a curiosity for new stories and aesthetic forms. For this great pleasure in filmmaking and experimenting, we are happy to offer a platform. It is the moment that you watch your own film on a big screen – with five hundred spectators in a sold-out cinema – that you go on stage and answer questions from an international audience that give you an energy which can carry far.
How far? You can see in this year’s Berlinale Competition Nora Fingscheidt who showed her award-winning documentary Without this World (OT: Ohne diese Welt) last year as a guest of Perspektive with her feature film debut System Crasher (OT: Systemsprenger).
This year’s selection is also titled “Coming of age”? In that sense, the topics preoccupying young filmmakers have not changed much. Rightly, things often revolve around love, identity, freedom, and self-realization. Yet over the years the stories and their protagonists have become more international. Can you walk us through this year’s selection? How would you describe it?
L.S.: Even though the “Perspektive” represents the German section at the Berlinale, the films have actually become more international throughout the years. Documentary and feature film directors find their stories all over the world. And for that purpose, many return to their homeland. This year, we embark on an embattled no man’s land in India, visit a very unconventional Bulgarian coastal town and travel to Italy, where we find the tourist cities of Palermo and Venice unusually deserted. However, a journey can also go back to one’s own past, as can be seen in actress Mayam Zaree’s directing debut Born in Evin. In her film, she seeks to break the silence about her own birth in an Iranian prison to rediscover a part of her identity. At the same time, our films show that one does not necessarily have to travel far to discover new perspectives. Our protagonists go on a (religious) self-discovery in Cologne, explore the streets of Berlin by day and by night and look behind doors that otherwise remain closed. All our films have in common a curiosity for new and unfamiliar images of places.
With box office hits and award winning films, German Film is at a commercial and creative highpoint. It has indeed been experiencing a renaissance over the past two years. Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann and Valeska Grisebach’s Western were both honored in Cannes and Fatih Akin’s Aus dem Nichts (In the Fade) won a Golden Globe. Do you agree with that? How do you see the current German Cinema and the German film industry as a whole?
L.S.: I am very happy that the German Film has gained a lot of international attention recently. Still, I would not call it a “renaissance” just yet. But, we do have three feature films in the Official Competition of the festival and they are all outstanding. So, it looks like the trend will last. However, we do not want the industry to twiddle their thumbs; there is still plenty left to do.
Women in Film is a hot topic today. What is your opinion on the current situation and how well are female filmmakers represented in your program this year? And, in comparison with the previous editions? What is the situation of women in the German film industry? What can you tell me about the German campaign Pro Quota Film, for a funding quota for female filmmakers?
L.S.: As I started curating Perspektive Deutsches Kino in 2011, we had a quota of 66% with eight female directors of twelve films in total. In between the years it did not look as impressive as that (the average percentage was 43%). This year, five out of twelve films in our program are directed by women, which is a quota of 42% and again about the section’s average percentage. In the past, we noticed that female filmmakers mostly directed documentaries and short films. This is changing more and more. So now, there are already three feature films by women in our competition. Also, in other departments women are more visible. If you look at DoP Sabine Panossian, for example, her visual concept in Off Season directed by Henning Beckhoff is one of the most remarkable cinematographies in the program. The 2016 Student Academy Award-winning medium-length feature Where the Woods End (OT: Am Ende der Wald) was also one of her camera works. Even if we are still far from a desirable state of implicitness, this shows that initiatives such as ProQuote Film are bearing fruit and are contributing to the growing self-confidence of young female filmmakers.
But in general, the debate of female representation is not grasped by the young generation: the gender parity in film schools is still balanced. The crack only follows afterwards when the existing female potential is not being represented among the number of employed female filmmakers. If you take the key position of directing, there is about 44% of alumni female directors, but only 23% are being employed in the market place.
Furthermore, there was and there still is a distorted and stereotypical image of women in Cinema and Television. We need to address these representations, expound their problems and discuss them openly. The work of Pro Quota Film in the past two years has been very successful; they played a big part in opening the discussion. This becomes noticeable when you look at women in leading positions; on the basis of their amendment to the Film Promotion Act (Filmförderungsgesetz) committees of funding institutions for example have to be staffed with women and men equally.
And, the Berlinale and women over the years?
L.S.: The heads of Berlinale’s main sections are mostly women: Paz Lázaro, Maryanne Redpath, Maike Mia Höhne and I. At the festival as a whole, we are just as much a very female dominated organization, which is a working field I highly appreciate. As a cultural event, the Berlinale provides a platform for questions and discussions. This includes the perspectives and life realities of underrepresented groups, not only in relation to gender but also ethnicity, age, disability, sexual identity and religion. Culture, and with it, the art of Film deals with aesthetics but also social matters. You can see that reflected in the program of each section and in the diversity initiatives of the Berlinale and European Film Market.